The application of beans

I’ve had my mid-life crisis, sorry, sports car for several years now. It mostly sits on the drive looking angry and collecting bird crap.

We have a strange relationship. I fuss over it, needlessly worrying about the smallest thing and hate parking it anywhere in public. The strange bit is that this attitude is completely reversed once we’re at the track. Then I drive it like I stole it, flirting with the rev limiter on most gear changes and tutting at the manically flashing (nay shouting) traction control light as I take each corner slightly too fast. (Yes, yes, I’ll turn it off - next time. And once I address the ’slightly too fast’ issue.)

A clear example of this being the time it decided to *ahem* leak a bit of petrol whilst on a track day. I noticed it leaking from behind the filler cap, out over the rear bumper. But, my track day brain said “it’s not dripping now so it must only be under lateral g-forces” and out we went for another session. Had that have happened at home I would have been a nervous wreck.

Today wasn’t a track day. It was a rather dull Sunday and I was out of coffee. As the whizzy car hadn’t really moved in a few weeks I decided to pop to Tescos in that and get its oils flowing.

On the way back I took the longer, dual carriageway route home and applied a law abiding amount of beans, officer. After a few miles I looped round a roundabout to head home.

Then it happened. As I left the roundabout there was nobody in front of me. Two straight lanes in front, 333 nicely warmed up BHP under the bonnet and some recently purchased wine behind me in need of the fridge.

So I did as BMW’s M division intended and smoothly yet swiftly applied the loud pedal.

No, nothing bad happened. Instead I experienced what Evo magazine’s strapline calls ‘The thrill of driving’. The acceleration, the noise - oh, the noise, and the feel of the road in my hands. It brought a genuine smile to my face which I hadn’t noticed I’d been missing for a while.

Alas traffic, legality and common sense put an all too soon an end to the feeling, but it was great whilst it lasted and the wine was in the fridge in good time.

Waffle about: 

Hacked Off

Yup, my site was hacked. My own silly fault really, as I forgot to update the underlying CMS when it had a rather nasty security issue a while back. In my defence, I updated all the other instances that my clients use but I forgot my own personal site. Ah well.

It started with a text at 0900 on Sunday morning from my work mate Jonny saying it looks like my site has been hacked. A bleary eyed check via my phone confirmed that whatever my domain was serving up, it wasn't what I put there. Bugger.

In fact, it looked like this:


Firing up the laptop and after checking all my other sites with a bit of a sweat on I confirmed it was only my personal site. Ok, not tooooo bad then. I have backups, somewhere.

Poking about on the server, I found a bunch of files that aren't part of the Drupal installation, and were put there over night:

Yes yes I should have taken a full 'forensic' backup, but it was Sunday morning and I was operating in a severely under-caffinated manner. Instead, I deleted the files and hoped for the best. Neither of which made any difference at all.

Ok. I then removed the sub-domain that pointed to the Drupal installation and went in search of coffee (sub domain edits take up to an hour to take effect)

A coffee, some breakfast and a while latter I checked again... no change. Not sure how that can be... There's nothing pointing to that Drupal install now. Ok, time to contact the hosting company. Which I did, explaining the situation and asking if they could check the sub domain deletion had actually worked.

It seems mentioning the word 'hacked' prompts a slightly more dynamic response than the usual support ticket. They (quite rightly) disabled my site and asked that I delete the nasty stuff before they would enable it again.

Fair enough. I backed it all up, then nuked it. Out of interest I poked about in the MySQL database and saw the hack had changed the admin user. No way I using that DB again anyway, but interesting to see.

Once my empty site had been enabled again, I reconstructed it from (not so) recent backups, and here we are.

As far as I can tell, they got in via this SQL Injection exploit -

The morals of the story....

  1. Back up.
  2. Apply security updates
  3. Back up (again. One isn't enough)
  4. Test that you can restore from a backup (ideally before you have to)


Waffle about: 

iPoint of Sale

It’s been almost a year since I waffled on about the then new iPhone 5 and what else people might want from a phone.

Now the iPhone 5S has been out for a bit, here’s what I reckon.

I previously wondered what else they could add in terms of hardware, and in the end they added three new features:

- Fingerprint reader
- M7 co-processor chip
- Faster CPU

Software-wise, you might have noticed that Apple also released iOS7.

Now, so what - you may well ask. Taken individually these new features seem like a bit of a gimmick in the case of fingerprint reader and only slight updates in the cases of the coprocessor and faster CPU.

But I think they’re just laying the groundwork for bigger and scarier things.

As Apple realised before anyone else (apart from maybe Amazon), it’s not about the individual devices; it’s about the infrastructure and reducing the friction involved when relieving customers of their cash.

With the new fingerprint scanner, assuming it’s accurate enough in real-world use, they’ve combined the devices in our pockets with our credit card details to produce walking points of sale. Tack on the new iBeacon bluetooth stuff and they’re about to make in-store tracking and payments as easy as Amazon made it online.

The new M7 chip basically takes care of capturing and processing all the data from the various gyroscopic, compass and accelerometer sensors in the phone, even when asleep, freeing up the CPU and preserving battery life. If basic gyroscopic sensors were good enough to navigate Lancaster bombers across Europe during WW2, imagine what the ones in an iPhone can do. All the time. Whilst it’s asleep. Some say scary, I say cool, a phone that knows when you’re driving and doesn’t disturb you.

Glueing all this together are the more boring features of the faster CPU and the new APIs in iOS7. Non-techies might not care but having more CPU power available means a lot more potential in terms of app functionality and the new iOS APIs make it easier to extract that functionality.

I think the new iPhone is greater than the sum of it’s parts and with my tin-foil hat on I know that its ultimate aim is to relieve me of (more) money, but I’m still quite looking forward to seeing what developers make of it’s new capabilities.

Waffle about: 

iPhone5? We want MORE!

It seems that people are disappointed with the new iPhone 5 release. Apart from Samsung that is, they seem quite pleased by it. I think both viewpoints are down to the lack of hardware features that make for great news headlines. The article writers wanted more to shout about, and Samsung are relieved that there isn't anything more to shout about.

The thing is though, I don't know what other hardware they could have added. The screen is now 16:9 and a decent resolution, it has 4G capability, a whizzy enough processor and a decent camera capable of full HD video capture. Without sounding like a troll, what's missing?

I suspect a lot of the negative attitudes (lack of traffic attracting headline-grabbing features aside) is down to the apparent lack of freedom. Yes, you have to use iTunes, yes you need Apple TV to connect to use Airplay and yes, you have to use the App store to buy stuff. The thing is, I like that. We're a Mac household. We don't have a household Windows PC that we all use - just MacBooks, iPhones and an iPad. So I quite like the way they all 'just work' with each other.

I understand that the lack of tinkering options and being 'forced' to use Apple stuff is a deal breaker for others, and that's cool. But their deal breaker is exactly the reason I like it. I don't want 15 different ways to be able to do something, with the option of adding more - I just want one way that works.

Waffle about: 

Outburst, me?

Having removed the car based content from this site and moved it to Owners Diary, I thought I'd carry on with this content-type specialisation stuff and create somewhere for me to rant as well.

There it is. An outlet for my rantings that will hopefully result in this site evolving into something with a line of content that is more considered, thoughtful and less shouty.

Yeah, right.

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Why So Quiet?

I just realised that I've been throwing all my words onto a different site recently which is why it's been a bit quiet around here.

As my car related ramblings had started to take over this site I thought it best to give them a home of their own. And then I thought others might want to do the same thing, and so Owners Diary was born

Whilst the entries at the moment are car related, there's no reason why other vehicles can't be included. The idea is to also have it remind you when things like MOT and insurance are due, once I get the basics sorted.

It's in closed beta at the moment, but please drop me a mail/tweet/comment/facebook post if you'd like an account to play with.

Waffle about: 

Things that make you go

This isn't a snobby rant, much, but is based on my genuine confusion.

I'm confused as to why people stick badges on their cars which lie. In particular, the BMW 'M' badge. Now, if you don't know what that is, it signifies that the BMW it's stuck to is the 'Motorsport' model of the range. Which in turn means that it's significantly different under the skin with uprated suspension, brakes, differential and engine. At least.

Now the key point is my qualifier 'if you don't know what that means'. The 'M' badge itself doesn't explain anything in the same way that 'turbo', 'V8' or '3.0 litre' do. It's just a letter, and if you don't already know what it means it doesn't really explain itself.

Conversely, if you do know what it means, you'll immediately be able to tell if the car it's stuck to is really the Motorsport model by virtue of it's extra exhaust pipes, flared arches, side grills, and (for the extra nerdy types) red needles in the dash dials.

So if you stick an M badge on a non-M BMW, the only people who will know what that means (and therefore the only people who could technically be impressed) will be exactly the people who know you're lying.

Waffle about: 

Two in the bush?

It's well known that looking up medical symptoms on the web is generally not a good idea as you inevitably discover that your symptoms are in fact signs of imminent death rather than the more likely minor condition.

For self confessed worriers like myself, I'd say this phenomena is even worse when looking up car issues to the extent that I seem to convince myself that I've got issues for which I've had no tangible symptoms!

For example; when having the alignment sorted out a few weeks back it was pointed out that the rubber bush at the outer end of the camber control arm needs replacing. I'm not entirely sure if that's the right name for it as the alignment guy didn't seem too sure. So I went online to see if I could find out what it was called and get a price for the bits.

In case any experts are reading this and are feeling kind enough to drop me a line to tell me, it's this bit:

After a surfing session I ended up convincing myself that I needed all manner of suspension bushes changing, some of which where a nightmare to to. ('Bushes' are the rubber bits that sit between a number of metal suspension bits to absorb movement.)

Having said that, it seems that upgrading from the standard rubber bushes to performance polyurethane ones can improve handling quite a bit.

So that's something else to add to the Christmas list whilst I continue my search for a name and price for the current issue-ette.

Update, a few weeks later..
Turns out it's called the 'lower control arm bush'. But it's still a confusing part as the local garage had trouble identifying it as they initially got sent the wrong parts.

Still, it's all replaced now and whilst the car was up on the ramp I thought it made sense to have both sides done, and to replace the eccentric bolts too.

And being the worrier that I am, I asked the guys to check for anything else under there that might need doing, seeing as the other bushes are in theory the same age, but they report everything is sorted and nothing else needs doing. Result!

Waffle about: 

Losing my grip

After a few weeks of being more wary of the rain than a typical London commuter (another story), I've finally replaced the remnants of tyre that were covering my rear wheels.

Normally with my other cars this involves choosing a premium brand, having them fitted and driving away all happy and stuck to the road.

This time however I'm performing a little experiment by going with a not so premium brand. Don't get me wrong, they're not dodgy remoulds from a bloke in the pub who gets them from someone he knows 'in the trade', but they're not made of pure gold like the top of the range £230 per corner types either.

And seeing as I was feeling all sassy I've gone for a slightly lower profile too, mainly as this hugely increases the range of tyres available. The standard size is 255/40/18 on the rear, but these are 255/35/18.

For those who think that's a very strange date of birth, it's actually:

Tyre width in mm / side wall height (as a % of the width) /wheel diameter in inches.

Hopefully this blog entry will be useful to the many other M3 owners who wander through forums looking for comments about which tyres are good enough to keep you out of the hedge, but still affordable. (Note that I didn't say "cheap". You can't say that word when talking about owning an M3. About ANYTHING.) Also, if these tyres end up killing me, this post will serve as a very handy "don't do that" warning to others :-)

I've gone for Nexen N6000 tyres. I know, they're not well known, and that's mainly the point. I'm fed up of all the conflicting stories from M3 owners about how they found mid range tyres to be as good as the premium or how the mid range ones made their car feel broken.

Another reason for buying them was the cost for two, fitted was £187. Yup, for the pair. So I got a full alignment whilst I was there. Total cost, £214. That's less than the price of a single fancy-dan tyre.

Here's what the internet thinks of my choice:

Picture and more detail from

Yes, I know they're not the best, but at a 3rd of the price of super whizzy tyres it's worth the experiment so I can at least know for certain that you do get what you pay for when stumping up the cash.

My reasoning is that I don't care about lifespan, as I only drive the car occasionally and I'm not too fussed about wet handling as I don't use it in the wet or if I do it'll just be coming home when caught out in it. Unless I happen to be on a track day when it rains in which case... whahaaaay!

On the short drive home I must say the car felt a little bit more squirmy than before, but then the last set where almost slicks and these ones have actual tread. See...

Also, you're supposed to let new tyres bed in for a bit until all the release agent (used to get them out of the moulds) has worn off, and to make sure they've settled on the rims nicely. Which reminds me.. I didn't reset the 'something wrong with one of the wheels' sensor thingy.

Oh no.. an excuse to go for a drive tomorrow.

I'll update this blog in a few hundred miles when I'll know if they're a bargain or grim reaper catnip.

Waffle about: